Presentation: “The Spires of Prospero”
Summary:In which there’s something here as strong as life; I know that it will reach you.
Timeline:March 11, 2018.
Published:June 1, 2019.
Rating:PG/K+ - some poetic references to gore.
Beta:Irish Samurai, with additional thanks to Mikelus and Huinesoron for their help with earlier drafts of the ballad.

When Thoth entered RC 2112r on March 11, 2018, Derik was already there and waiting, seated on a wooden stool he’d scrounged up from somewhere, his Elvish lap harp in hand.

He hadn’t told Thoth he would be doing this. He hadn’t exactly planned it, but when it came to the point, the stars had aligned such that it was the only thing to do. All night, he’d been up with a piece of original music he’d been composing for months, obsessively rehearsing and putting the finishing touches on it in order to avoid thinking about anything else. It showed in the circles under his eyes and the black stubble he hadn’t shaved from his jaw. He probably smelled a bit ripe, too, not to mention the erratic spikes in his aura. None of that mattered, so long as the end result didn’t go to waste.

“Brother Derik,” Thoth inquired, “what is it that you are doing?”

Derik looked up at him with a hangdog expression. “I couldn’t sleep last night. I worked instead. Gall kicked me out, so I came here to keep working. It’s the anniversary of my recruitment. You understand?”

“You are creating some sort of commemoration. I understand.”

“Not exactly.” Derik squeezed the back of his neck with one hand. “I, ah . . . haven’t handled this time very well in the past. Gall has helped in her way . . . it’s also the eve of the anniversary of our partnership and the founding of Blast Hardcheese, so she and the team give me an excuse to get completely blitzed without losing face . . . although one Turn I did get into a fight with Suicide, I don’t remember why, and after Jenni patched us up, she didn’t speak to either of us for about a month. She resents that I don’t go to her with this as it is, but I can’t. I tried in the beginning—at first she insisted, and it made sense, and she does understand—but she can’t fix it, and that just makes the whole thing even more upsetting.”

“You have begun to ramble, brother.” Thoth’s tone began sharp, but quickly softened. He wasn’t really used to dealing with this sort of thing, but he could do it for his friend. “What is it you precisely intend?”

“Something different. Thoth . . . brother . . . I don’t want to do that again. That is—” a dark chuckle “—I very much want to, but I couldn’t bear the shame of it after all you’ve done to help me gain some control over myself. I need another way. So I chose this.” He patted the harp. “I’ve avoided it, you know why, but I thought, perhaps if can set my demons against each other, they’ll leave me in peace. And I’ve been working on this since . . . oh, December, at least.”

“Mhm . . . ” Thoth’s curiosity was plain to see: It was rare for Derik to be quite this intense. The Astartes had been wanting to hear his music out of curiosity for Pernese traditions, and it seemed he would finally have his chance.

Derik managed a faint smile. “You see, when we met, I thought your story deserved a tribute. I did the best I could with what I had at the time, but it wasn’t quite right, was it? No.” He waved one hand, repudiating a poor showing. “Surely, I thought, there must be something more fitting from your own universe. So I went looking, and much to my amazement, I found nothing. Not a single scrap of verse I could access, despite the Remembrancer order existing precisely for the purpose of creating such things.” The harper shook his head. “So, I resolved to make up the lack myself, and now it is finished, and it’s as good a time as any to share it with you, if you’ll do me the honor of listening. I don’t claim that it’s any good, mind you. Composition was never my strength. I only hope that my words may do some small justice to you and your Legion brothers.”

Thoth allowed the shock that he felt to show on his face, at least for a moment. “I . . . see. Yes, I would wish to hear this.”

Derik nodded once. “Sit down, then, please. Before I lose my nerve.” He fiddled with the harp’s tuning, even though it had been perfect the last several times he’d checked.

Thoth took a seat, legs crossed, on the floor. He waited silently, intent on Derik.

The harper struck a few experimental chords. As satisfied as he could be, he cleared his throat and said, “I’m calling it ‘The Spires of Prospero’.” Then he began.

The style he used was something like a hybrid between an Irish lament, with variable ornamentation on each line as the mood took him, and the ancient Anglo-Saxon tradition of Beowulf, with the harp brought in to emphasize a particular emotion or allow a moment of quiet reflection between parts of the story. He was hesitant at first, but as he engaged with the performance, it was as though the physical world fell away from him, and there was nothing left but music . . .

The Spires of Prospero

Before the bane of heresy
in flames consumed the galaxy,
a jewel once crowned humanity:
a city proud and fair to see
upon the world of Prospero.
Beyond the ruin of Old Night,
no more to fear psychneuein's bite,
arose from Tizca, bathed in light,
the silver Spires of Prospero.

Magnificent acropoli,
their mirrored walls beheld the sky;
their marbled feet danced golden Phi;
and fruited fronds that pleased the eye
made sweet the air of Prospero.
O’er shining halls of knowledge stored,
there many-colored banners soared;
and silver prides of lions roared
to greet the Spires of Prospero.

And deep within their sky-clad towers,
nurturing ethereal flowers
thought-borne, by the countless hours
growing their Empyrean powers,
dwelled the Sons of Prospero:
Once broken, flesh-wracked, lost, debased—
now found, with time and purpose graced,
when Magnus, Crimson King, embraced
his Thousand Sons on Prospero.

A bare one thousand souls withstood
their trial of flesh, and neither good
intent nor wisdom, though they would,
could save more of their brotherhood;
the strong survived to Prospero.
And Magnus taught those who remained
his knowledge occult and arcane:
five schools had each to their domain
a gilded Spire of Prospero.

Athanaeans with auras bright
discerned men’s secret thoughts aright,
while Corvidae on wings of light
did pierce the veil with future-sight
to guide the Sons of Prospero;
blood-cunning proud Pavoni learned,
Raptora stalwart kine-shields turned,
and Pyrae’s flame eternal burned
above the Spires of Prospero.

Though coming late to join the fight
to claim the stars and reunite
mankind, fragmented by Old Night,
a path of glory blazed the bright
and shining Sons of Prospero.
The path of bloodshed never sought
their fellowships all nine, but wrought
assent with guile, and knowledge brought
to fill the Spires of Prospero.

From sciences and gramaries
to arts and ancient histories,
the learning of the centuries,
passed down through their academies,
revered the Sons of Prospero.
With theaters to battle in
and fountain squares to revel in,
their vim and verve were mirrored in
the gleaming Spires of Prospero.

And yet for all their learned arts,
for all their proud and martial hearts
beat true, steadfast in all their parts,
cruel treachery with poison darts
laid low the Sons of Prospero.
The loyal Sons were thrice betrayed;
the Ocean’s tides of fate arrayed
against them crashed in red cascade
to stain the Spires of Prospero.

Provoked by cries of fear and hate
for Warp-born powers profligate,
the Emperor proclaimed a great
conclave upon the psykers’ fate
and on the Sons of Prospero,
though Mankind’s Master long had known
how gifted Magnus’ sons had grown
and joyfully the aether flown
beyond the Spires of Prospero.

’Neath pyroclastic clouds begrayed,
on volatile Nikaea bayed
the brutish Wolves, and Guards inveighed
against their brothers; thus waylaid
were Magnus’ Sons of Prospero,
who, true to faithless summons, came,
and bore the burden of the name
of “sorcerer” in wretched shame
home to the Spires of Prospero.

But Magnus, future-touched, had seen
a vision horrid and obscene:
his brother, Horus, and the keen
witch-blade imbued with craft unclean,
like nothing known on Prospero,
that laid him low. If he should fall,
the Warmaster would plunge them all
into the flames; so Magnus called
his best to him on Prospero.

Within a cave of crystal hewn,
one thousand thralls as one communed
to grant their life-lights as a boon
to speed their master's flight, attuned
by five Adepts of Prospero.
For Horus’ soul and Magnus’ pride,
one thousand faithful servants died
and five Adepts were sorely tried
beneath the Spires of Prospero.

With the strength their souls imbued,
the Crimson King in spirit flew
to save his brother, wise and true;
his vigil stood the closest few
deep in the heart of Prospero.
The days drew on: suns three by three
passed Tizca by, where none could see;
nine days it rained, and filled with glee,
the people danced on Prospero.

Alas that Magnus came too late:
the Warmaster was bound by fate
to fall beyond th’ Empyrean’s gate
and Magnus, shattered, came back straight
to tell his Sons of Prospero.
No time for Horus to be mourned;
the Emperor could still be warned
by those same arts he lately scorned,
taught in the Spires of Prospero.

So forth again the Mage set out:
by ancient ways that wound about
the aether, Magnus made his route
perforce, and heeded not the doubt
that plagued his Sons of Prospero,
who guessed their sire would not receive
the grateful welcome and reprieve
he sought; for who would now believe
news from the Spires of Prospero?

But Magnus, in his arrogance
refused to see himself askance
and boldly, blindly, as a lance
of fire, he crossed the great expanse
and doomed the Sons of Prospero;
for finding his way blocked, but shown
a power greater than he’d known,
he pierced through to the Golden Throne
of Terra, far from Prospero.

The Emperor beheld him then:
a searing form beyond the ken
or reckoning of mortal men.
In tow’ring wrath he flew again
against his Son of Prospero,
for Magnus, in his ignorance,
had shattered Terra’s great defense
against the Warp; in shame he hence
retreated home to Prospero.

And none he told what he had done,
nor of the web of doom he’d spun
that snared them; with nowhere to run,
he turned his face from every son
who looked to him on Prospero.
Within his sanctum Magnus wept
to know how badly he’d misstepped
and in his grief he would accept
the punishment of Prospero.

For nothing now could stay the hand
of Mankind’s Master, whose command
that psychic arts be ever banned
must be upheld with no remand
for Magnus, Son of Prospero.
He set his Wolves upon the prey
they long had scented; grim and gray,
the Rout set forth without delay
across the void to Prospero.

The Mage was but to be secured
to face the justice he’d incurred,
but at the fallen Horus’ word,
cruel death was sanctioned and assured
for every Son of Prospero.
Their father knew their death drew nigh,
but drew a veil across their eye
and stood their guardians idly by
upon the walls of Prospero.

So when the axe in darkness fell,
the sudden, furious fires of hell
upon the lucid kine-shield shell
spun over Tizca made the knell
that woke the Sons of Prospero.
The ships of Fenris in the void
had all their arsenal deployed—
and yet their wrath had not destroyed
the soaring Spires of Prospero.

The brave Raptora would defy
their guns unto the last, and buy
the people time to fight or fly.
They forced the Wolves down from on high
to face the Sons of Prospero,
who, though their father wished no fight,
would not go gentle into night.
If die they must, they’d die upright
before the Spires of Prospero.

In the pale, gray light of dawn,
their crimson battle-lines were drawn.
Down from the north the foe came on
across the sea to fall upon
the noble Sons of Prospero.
With shields of force and aether blasts,
their lines, though silken-thin, held fast
while scholars saved the wisdom ’massed
within the Spires of Prospero.

They’d fought the Wolves to failure’s brink
when Warp-sight fled them in a blink;
their strength was too their armor’s chink,
and psychic silence spread like ink
to drown the Sons of Prospero.
The Silent Sisters joined the fray
with golden masks in fierce display;
the Sons fell back in disarray
before the sack of Prospero.

Now, men of any lesser breed,
struck down and cast aside to bleed
with no remorse, might have with speed
gone on their knees to beg and plead,
but not the Sons of Prospero.
They rose again, themselves outdid,
to strike the Sisters where they hid
in aether-nulls, and held amid
the blackened Spires of Prospero.

In all their glorious powers arrayed,
the Sons regrouped once more and made
a final stand in Photep’s shade.
There thrice and finally were betrayed
the stricken Sons of Prospero.
Not gone, but sleeping was the blight
upon their flesh; with evil spite
their curse awoke, and cries of fright
beshook the Spires of Prospero.

The aether gorged them to surfeit:
its poison fangs their bellies bit;
its twisting claws their flesh unknit;
it boiled their blood, and flaming lit
the ravaged souls of Prospero.
Their foes, who saw the Sons laid low
and greatly scorned them in their woe,
prepared to strike the final blow
to break the Spires of Prospero.

Now Magnus, gazing from on high,
no more could watch his children die.
His vengeful lightning split the sky
and all beheld his blazing eye:
the Red Cyclops of Prospero.
Wreathed in flames of crimson-gold,
he smote the Wolves with powers untold—
and all his Legion’s souls he sold
to save the Spires of Prospero.

This bargain struck, the doom was sealed.
Across the cosmos, whirling, reeled
the shards of Tizca, flung afield
with all who held to Photep’s shield:
One Thousand Sons of Prospero.
A bare one thousand souls, bereft
of pride and honor, knew the theft
that stole their lives, and only left
the twisted Spires of Prospero.

Their blackened sides cringed from a dome
becrazed with fires that seared the gloam
of night that cloaked their Warp-cursed home
in Terror’s Eye, where now would roam
the empty Sons of Prospero.
The wisdom they had held in trust
was lost, their great works fell to rust,
and all that now remains is dust
where shone the Spires of Prospero.

The last mournful chords trembled on the harp strings and faded away. Derik’s hands rested on the neck and pillar of the instrument as he caught his breath.

Thoth sat silent. He was loath to admit it, but Derik’s artistry had touched him. For but a brief moment, it was as if the millenia had not passed. He stood upon the surface of his home, yet again witnessing the ships’ ominous descent. Yet again, he felt the feelings his readings had told him that he should not be able to feel: the anguish, the pain, the agony of souls crying out around him. A tear came to his eye. “ . . . Thank you, brother. It is a worthy tribute.”

Derik looked up, blinking as though he had forgotten Thoth was there. After a moment, he nodded. “Good. Good. It’s out now; I can’t put it back in.” His consonants slurred with exhaustion and the broadening of his accent.

“You do not need to. I am quite happy with it.”

“I’m glad. It’s yours.” The embers of the fire that had sustained Derik while he sang guttered, and he swayed where he sat.

Thoth hesitantly reached out toward him. “Do you need assistance? It appears you could at least make use of some sleep . . . ”

With an effort, Derik picked up his head again. “Think you’re right. You usually are.” He tucked the harp carefully under one arm, and reached back with the other.

Thoth took his hand, keeping careful watch over the man. Saying Thoth was usually right indicated an unusual level of willingness to cooperate, likely due in part to the exhaustion, but he knew Derik well enough to worry about his contrary streak, even in this condition. “Are you in need of further assistance, brother?”

Derik used Thoth’s velvet-iron grip to pull himself to his feet and stood still, testing his balance. He gave Thoth a hard look. “This is a metaphor, isn’t it? Feels like a metaphor.” He laughed, and with careful enunciation and a note of irony, said: “If you let me go now, I think I’ll fall harder than I have before. Will you walk with me awhile?”

Thoth nodded, adjusting his grip to something more comfortable. “I can do so, yes.”

“Thank you, brother. Thank you.”

Neshomeh’s Notes

This is set on what should be the tenth anniversary of Derik’s recruitment, but he hasn’t actually lived ten years since March 2008. Oh well. The point is, it looks like he’s serious about turning his life in a healthier direction now, thanks to Thoth. Derik still needs to work on controlling those manic tendencies, but hey, binge-composing is better than binge-drinking.

The meta story behind “The Spires of Prospero” is basically the same as how Derik tells it: After the Halloween 2017 role-play, I went looking for 40k fan music, thinking the fandom was ripe for it, and found jack squat—nothing with enough lyrics to be useful, anyway. Until recently, I would have just given up at that point, because I’ve told myself my whole life I’m not a poet, but the idea kept on knocking around in my head, and one day in December 2017, I happened to listen to Loreena McKennitt’s arrangement of “The Lady of Shalott.” When the wheel line is something like “the Knights at Camelot,” the scansion is so good that “the Spires of Prospero” fell into it in my head without effort, so I lifted the meter wholesale and ran with it . . . for 30 freaking stanzas, which is longer than the original ballad by 10 or 11. O.o

I know some details of the story are missing, most notably the involvement of the Adeptus Custodes in the Burning of Prospero, but if I really wanted to do the story justice in all the details, the poem would probably have to be twice as long. Since I was only planning on 18 stanzas, maybe, just to be clever (9 is the number of the Chaos God Tzeentch, so 9 x 2), I’m calling it good enough for my purposes and leaving it where it is. Could I have pushed it to 36? Probably. But, on balance, I think it’s just as well for the agents that it doesn’t have any evil numerology attached to it. {= )

I might have to stop telling myself I don’t write poetry. Especially since this is now the second song Derik has made me write for him (though I think I started this one first). I have no hope of this monster ever being set to music at all, let alone as I’ve described it, but . . . go for it if you want to? Just be sure to tell me if you do!

Thoth’s Notes:

For my part, “The Spires of Prospero” didn’t show up on my proverbial doorstep with quite the absolute lack of warning that Thoth got. Erm . . . Agent!Thoth, I mean. Anyways, I got sent a work in progress version long before Thoth first got any sort of reaction from it, for feedback and consideration. Once that became a completed piece, we dusted this interlude off for publication (we’d kinda started half-writing it in the interim? Our writing process is weird . . . ).

How much emotion Derik was going to get out of Thoth was subject to a good bit of internal debate, but I eventually did settle on a tear. I reckon the man’s earned it, don’t you? :-P

Next time: Gall sees this mess and probably bawls out Derik while mocking Thoth. Or bawls out Thoth while mocking Derik. Decide which one yourself, because I’m blatantly lying, and in fact pretty sure that’s not ever going to be written.

Sorry if I got your hopes up. Erm . . . theater of the mind?

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